After being blown out in historic fashion on Sunday afternoon, the LA Clippers took the floor on Tuesday night and bounced back with a dominant 23-point victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, winning by a final score of 124-101.
The game wasn't quite as close as the score reflects. The Clippers led by as many as 31 points early in the fourth quarter, though their lead began to dissipate after the team emptied its bench. That said, there was a time when it looked like LA was in trouble.
Minnesota got off to a hot start, outscoring the Clippers 18-9 through the first five minutes of the contest. LA looked sloppy on both ends of the floor, committing a handful of turnovers and fouls to begin the game and missing easy looks.
The Clippers battled back to take a four-point advantage into the second quarter, but a few minutes into the frame, the Wolves managed to tie the game back up at 39 apiece with roughly 10 minutes to play in the half.
From there, LA blew the game open. The Clippers went on a 31-11 run to close the half and kept that momentum going for the rest of the night.
Overall, it was a strong team effort that reaffirmed just how talented this group is — even outside of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers dished out 32 assists on 47 made field goals, limited turnovers after the opening frame and played a cohesive game on both ends of the floor.
The Clippers won't get much time to rest before they face-off with the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, and they'll need another strong effort to put them away. But before we get into tonight's contest, let's take a glance at some of the things we learned from LA's bounce-back victory.
LA's Bigs Dominate the Paint
When the LA Clippers made the decision to bring Ivica Zubac off the bench and start Serge Ibaka in his place, both fans and media raved about how it would bolster the team's interior defense. And while that has proven to be true thus far, it seems as though many of us overlooked how powerful a one-two punch they would be on offense.
Ibaka and Zubac played in perfect harmony on Tuesday night, each playing their role to perfection and making an impact on both ends of the floor as the two combined for 28 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and five blocks. Together, they converted 12 of their 19 field goal attempts (12-of-17 inside the arc), and neither played more than 22 minutes.
Clippers guard Reggie Jackson commented on Zubac's performance, drawing attention to how easy he made it for his teammates to get open looks.
"Zubac was making their team pay for being a smaller team," Jackson said. "He really established himself as a big guy today... Really attacking the paint, rebounding, getting second-chance points, making sure we had lanes when he was rolling. He made it easy on us."
Zubac and Ibaka are two of LA's most valuable players. As the season goes on, expect more of these types of performances — especially against smaller teams.
Luke Kennard Heats Up
Luke Kennard drew plenty of attention to himself when he signed a four-year contract extension with the Clippers worth up to $64 million — all before he had even played a game for the franchise. The sharpshooter essentially became a piece of LA's long-term core with the contract, and fans still weren't sure what to expect from him.
He had some solid outings to begin the season, but none stand off the page like his performance against Minnesota.
Kennard recorded a season-high 15 points, three rebounds and four assists across 29 minutes on Tuesday night, sinking three of his four attempts from three-point range and shooting 66.7% from the field.
It was the first time that Kennard truly looked confident in a Clippers uniform. Everybody knew he could shoot, but he had been hesitant to let it fly when the ball went his way in previous outings. Part of that probably has to do with him trying to fit in with a new team and a bit more to do with the fact that he's only played a handful of games since last December when he aggravated a season-ending knee injury.
After the game, Ty Lue praised Kennard for being aggressive with the ball, saying he thought Kennard "really played without thinking on the floor."
As Kennard gets more comfortable in his new environment, expect to see more nights like these.
Second Unit Sets the Tone
Despite losing reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the offseason, the LA Clippers' second unit is still a force to be reckoned with.
Lou Williams made this clear with his best performance of the young season on Tuesday night, recording 20 points, three rebounds and five assists in just 20 minutes of play. He was the team's leading scorer and had the best plus-minus rating of the night at +26.
Also efficient off the bench was Reggie Jackson, who had a strong all-around showing with 11 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block across 26 minutes. Terance Mann had a big night as well, and Zu's performance was already highlighted as well.
This isn't how the bench will look every night, either. Once the Clippers are fully healthy and get Leonard and Marcus Morris Sr. back, Kennard and Nic Batum will likely move to the second unit and potentially bump guys like Jackson and Mann out of the rotation or at least take a good chunk of their minutes.
Once that happens, expect the Clippers to truly look like an improved group from top to bottom.